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The Process of Drain Replacement: A Comprehensive Guide

TL;DR: Home drain pipes can degrade over time, causing issues like backups and odors. Signs for replacement include frequent backups, odors, slow drains, mold growth, green patches in the yard, foundation cracks, and pests. Types of pipes include clay, cast iron, Orangeburg, and PVC. Replacement options include trenchless repair and conventional methods, involving assessment, preparation, excavation (if needed), removal, replacement or repair, testing, backfilling, restoration, clean-up, and maintenance. Consulting professionals, like Tucson Plumbing and Drain in Arizona, ensure a tailored solution for your needs.


Drain pipes play a crucial role in the functionality of our homes, ensuring the proper flow of wastewater and preventing potential issues like backups and leaks. However, over time, drain pipes can deteriorate, become damaged, or experience blockages that require replacement. 

Understanding the process of drain replacement is essential for homeowners to make informed decisions and make sure their plumbing systems operate uninterrupted at all times. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the various aspects of drain replacement, including the telling signs that indicate the need for replacement, types of drain pipes, and the process involved.

Signs You Need Drain Pipe Replacement

Recognizing the signs that indicate the need for drain pipe replacement is crucial for avoiding costly repairs and potential damage to your property. Here are some common signs that your drain pipes may need replacement:

  • Frequent backups and clogs: If you experience recurring backups and clogs in your toilets, sinks, or showers, it is likely an indication of a faulty drain pipe that needs replacement.
  • Sewer odor: The presence of a foul sewage smell in your home suggests a damaged drain pipe that requires immediate attention.
  • Mold growth: Cracked drain pipes can allow heat to escape and promote moisture buildup, leading to mold growth in your walls, floors, and ceilings.
  • Slow drains: If you unnoticed that your drains are emptying at a slower rate than usual, you most likely have a blockage in your pipes or some kind of damage in your sewer line that necessitates drain pipe replacement.
  • Unusual patches of green grass: If sewage is leaking from a drainpipe into your yard, you may notice unusually lush and green patches of grass. This indicates a potential leak and the need for drain pipe replacement.
  • Foundation cracks: A drain pipe leaking sewage can cause soil shifting and swelling, leading to foundation cracks. Any cracks you might notice in the foundation of your property might be a direct result of a damaged drain pipe.
  • Presence of insects or rodents: Damaged drain pipes can provide entry points for pests like rats, mice, cockroaches, and palmetto bugs. If you have an infestation, it is essential to address the underlying issue by replacing the drain pipe.

Types of Drain Pipes

Before delving into the process of drain pipe replacement, it is essential to familiarize yourself with the different types of drain pipes commonly found in residential properties. The main types of drain pipes include:

  • Clay Pipes: Clay pipes were widely used from the 1880s to the 1900s due to their durability and resistance to corrosion. However, they are prone to invasion by plant and tree roots, leading to leaks and blockages. Clay pipes can also break into large pieces, resulting in recurring blockages and significant backups.
  • Cast Iron Pipes: Cast iron pipes have been in circulation since the early 1800s. However, despite being able to last for 75-100 years, they are susceptible to rust and corrosion over time, especially when exposed to water and oxygen. Tree roots and chemicals can also damage cast iron pipes, leading to failure.
  • Orangeburg Pipe: Orangeburg pipes, made of wood pulp and pitch, were popular in the late 1930s due to their low cost and lightweight properties. That said, they have a shorter lifespan than other materials and have a tendency to warp, collapse, and give in to root intrusion. Cleaning methods like hydro-jetting can also damage or destroy Orangeburg pipes.
  • PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride): PVC pipes emerged as a popular choice for new sewer lines and repairs in the early 1970s. Easy to install, these pipes are very cost-effective and have the added benefit of total corrosion resistance. However, improper installation and friction from debris can lead to pipe failure.

Drain Pipe Replacement Options

Once it is clear that you need to replace your drain pipes, it’s time to explore the available options. Two common methods for drain pipe replacement are trenchless sewer repair and conventional sewer repair. Let’s delve into the benefits of each option and their associated costs.

  • Trenchless Sewer Repair: Trenchless sewer repair is a minimally invasive method that avoids the need for extensive digging. This method involves two subtypes: pipe lining and pipe bursting.
  • Pipe Lining: Pipe lining is a process in which a unique, epoxy-impregnated liner goes into the old pipe before getting inflated. This method can be considered both repair and replacement, depending on whether the entire pipe length or only a section is lined. 
  • Pipe Bursting: Pipe bursting involves replacing an old pipe that gave way with a new one, usually a more modern type of pipe, such as high-density polyethylene (HDPE). Experts usually use a bursting head to extract the damaged pipe while pulling the new pipe into place at the same time. 
  • Conventional Sewer Repair: This process may be necessary in cases of severe pipe damage or when trenchless methods are not suitable. However, it is more time-consuming, disruptive, and costly compared to trenchless sewer repair.

Factors such as pipe length and depth, accessibility, and the extent of the damage directly influence the cost of conventional sewer repair. Your best move is to contact expert plumbing services to address the issue(s) at hand.

Breaking Down The Process of Drain Pipe Replacement

Now that we have explored the signs, types of drain pipes, and replacement options, let’s dive into the step-by-step process of replacing drain pipes.

  1. Assessment and Inspection: The first step is to assess the condition of your drain pipes through a thorough inspection. A professional plumber will use advanced tools and techniques, such as sewer camera inspection, to assess the damage.
  2. Preparation and Planning: Once the assessment is complete, the plumber will develop a detailed plan for the drain pipe replacement. This includes determining the replacement method, scheduling the intervention, and ensuring all necessary permits are secured.
  3. Site Preparation: Before starting the replacement, the plumber will prepare the work area by clearing any obstacles and ensuring proper safety measures are in place. 
  4. Excavation (for Conventional Repair): In the case of conventional sewer repair, excavation is required to access the damaged pipe. The plumber will carefully excavate the area around the pipe using specialized tools and machinery, taking precautions to minimize disruption to the surrounding landscape.
  5. Pipe Removal: The damaged pipe is removed using appropriate techniques, such as cutting or breaking it apart. The plumber will ensure that all remnants of the old pipe are completely removed to make way for the new pipe.
  6. Replacement or Repair: Depending on the chosen method (trenchless or conventional), the new pipe will be installed or the existing pipe will be repaired. For trenchless methods, the liner or new pipe will be inserted and secured in place. During conventional repair, experts install a brand-new pipe and connect it to the existing plumbing system. 
  7. Testing and Inspection: Once the replacement or repair is complete, the plumber will conduct rigorous testing to ensure the proper functioning of the new drain pipe. 
  8. Backfilling and Restoration: After successful testing, the excavated area will be backfilled with suitable materials, ensuring proper compaction. The plumber will then restore the surrounding landscape to its original condition.
  9. Clean-up and Debris Removal: The professionals clean the work area thoroughly, aiming to remove any debris or waste stemming from the replacement process. This ensures a tidy and safe environment for you and your family.
  10. Maintenance and Care: It is essential to follow any maintenance guidelines provided by the plumber or manufacturer to prolong the lifespan of the new drain pipe. Regular inspections and preventive measures, such as avoiding excessive grease and ensuring proper drainage, will help maintain the integrity of the system.


Understanding the process of drain pipe replacement is vital for homeowners to make informed decisions regarding the repair of their plumbing systems and ongoing maintenance. By recognizing the signs that indicate the need for replacement, understanding the types of drain pipes, and exploring various replacement options, you can ensure the longevity and efficiency of your drainage system. 


Whether you opt for trenchless sewer repair or conventional methods, it is crucial to consult with a professional plumber to assess the specific requirements of your project and ensure a successful replacement process. If you’re Arizona-based, get in touch with Tucson Plumbing and Drain if you want to see firsthand how professionals tackle pipe drain replacement at the highest level! 


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